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Illinois high school student saves choking baby at restaurant

Chase Eller used a technique he learned in his health class at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Illinois.
/ Source: TODAY

Chase Eller is being called a hero after saving a choking baby while dining at a local restaurant.

Eller, a 16-year-old sophomore at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Illinois, was sharing a meal with his girlfriend, Rylie Rhodes, 15, last Friday at El Rodeo restaurant in Decatur, when he heard a nearby baby coughing.

teen who saved choking baby standing with friend
Chase Eller and Rylie Rhodes.Courtesy Chase Eller

"It all happened in like a 10-second time span," Eller told TODAY. "At first I didn’t think anything of the coughing. But then I looked over and I could see the baby was having a tough time breathing. I could see pretty obviously that the baby was choking."

After Eller saw the baby's panicking mom using her fingers to try to remove the blockage from the baby's throat, the quick-thinking teen remembered a lesson he'd learned in a semester-long health class taught by teacher Scott Bales.

Sticking your fingers down a choking baby's mouth will only make the situation worse, he recalled. Instead, Eller knew the right thing to do was to turn the baby upside down to try to dislodge whatever was stuck in the baby's throat.

"When you know a baby is choking, you tip the baby upside down and you kind of put them on your arm at a specific angle. You sometimes have to give the baby a few back blows," he said. "And whatever is lodged in the baby’s throat will hopefully come out easier than if the baby was sitting straight up."

Eller asked the baby's frantic mom if he could try to help. Immediately after he turned the baby upside down, whatever was lodged in the baby's throat came loose. He said of the baby's mom, "She just kept saying thank you. She was really grateful."

"I didn’t really do much but she felt really glad that I stepped in," he added.

According to Dr. Holly Andersen, a cardiologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, if a choking victim is an infant less than one years old, sit down with the infant face down on your forearm and your thigh. With your other hand, thrust on the infant's back with the palm of your hand, checking to see if you have dislodged the object from the infant's airway.

Eller told TODAY he only did what comes naturally to him, and he credited his dad, Gary, a 18-year police officer in Moultrie County, for teaching him to always try to help people in need.

"I feel like me growing up around all police officers and first responders, I just kind of have that instinct (to help). I get that from my dad," the humble sophomore said.

He also credits his health teacher Bales for teaching him the skills that saved the day. "If he hadn't done such a good job teaching that health class, I would have never stepped in," said the teen.

After Sullivan High School shared a photo about Eller's bravery Thursday on its Facebook page, commenters from all around the country began calling him a hero.

"Your ability to act under pressure is something to be proud of. So glad the baby is OK," wrote one.

"What could have been the worst day of these parent's lives is now an amazing story to tell," commented another. "Way to go Chase!"